(26 July 1997)

When bricks speak, look out! Because they’ve kept silent so long, they’re bound to be ornery. All that weight. Never a vacation, not even day trips are allowed. But what do they expect? Know what you're signing up for, I say.

It’s no picnic being a brick, but there are some benefits. That’s why they go for it. For one, it’s relaxing; your neighbors, usually other bricks, tend to keep to themselves, so there’s a lot of quiet time. Occasionally, a brick will find that they’ve been placed on a corner--that can be noisy. And cold. But the odds are against that.

What else? No phone calls. Ever. Someday, maybe, but not yet.

What do bricks talk about? Is there a buzz among the brick-elite, the brickolage? Who’s up, who’s down? Whose mortar is firm, whose is crumbling? What do bricks expect? For what do they hope? A good job, nice house, many children, spiritual fulfillment? Well, no. Mostly bricks aim low. Stasis, languor, immobility--these sum it up.


Anakin kills younglings in Star Wars III -- After Newtown, an intolerable cinematic moment

Post-Newtown, it was a bit disturbing to watch Star Wars III (Revenge of the Sith) with my 9 year old and come across the scene in which a 20 year old Anakin Skywalker go into the Jedi pre-school to kill all the "younglings" as his final task before becoming Darth Vader. 


Against the Sunk Costs Argument for MOOC's and the Expansion of Online Education

There was a line in the book Alone Together by Sherry Turkle that encapsulated, roughly, what's at the heart of my concern about MOOC's, online, etc. 

"When we make a job rote, we are more open to having machines do it. But even when people do it, they and the people they serve feel like machines."

What this expresses to me is the fact that there is something very logical (developmentally "next step") about increasing the automated/distanced/impersonal components to our educational strategies. In other words, it's hard to argue against these components because we, ourselves, have made teaching more rote as we've created larger and larger classrooms. 

My resistance stems from the old adages "You can't derive an 'is' from an 'ought'" and "Two wrongs can't make a right." Just because we've moved education beyond further into the mass-production age doesn't make it right. Surely, there is a lot of water under the bridge--and we've built structures and systems (and technology career paths--and exploited adjunct teacher paths) premised on the mass-production approach.  But the mere fact that online/MOOC's helps us accomodate ourselves to some previous (and questionable) decisions--and indeed they help accelerate those decisions--does not constitute an argument for doing them. If they move us further in the wrong direction, then we have reason to question (even, resist) them. And, yes, doing that is an even heavier lift; but it is the right thing to do. And that's a good reason for doing something.

This is not a wholesale argument for or against any specific thing. Rather, it's against the frequently used argument that certain sunk costs commit us to further actions along those lines. My point is simple: the sunk costs argument is false and disreputable and should be discarded.


Computers Grading Papers? What Could Be Lost?

Notice that when the problem is efficiency and cost, the answer is always to yield to those values. If the problem is large classes, the answer is to invent a machine, not make the classes smaller. If the problem is the cost of human graders, the answer is not to find a way to pay people to do an important job, but to replace them with machines. And notice that the experts who are deciding if the software is good enough are engineers. Engineers are, for the most part, completely subordinated to the values of efficiency and cost. If they're capable of just spelling out other values, they're still highly unlikely to understand how other values could be as important as these. They are of the machine, in the machine, for the machine. And how could you not want what they want? They'll just say you're being "irrational." And so will the entrepreneurs who back them--because they, too, have subordinated themselves to the twin values of efficiency and cost. That's how you make money.


Massive Open Online Parenting (M.O.O.P.s)

For hundreds of years, parents have struggled to find time to enjoy life, spend time with their spouses, and complete the work intended for their talents by Destiny. But finally, with M.O.O.P's (Massive Open Online Parenting), children can get the information they need from one M.P. (Master Parent) while the remaining biological parents can reserve their time for more useful activities. The M.P. will be a parent trained by the best scholars and scientists in education and psychology (Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and other schools topping US News and World Reports' rankings) who will "info-nurture" even the youngest children using special SS (Stimulator Suits) and TP (Touch Pads).

To ward off the unfortunate side effects of disorientation and depression (an anachronistic set of emotions traceable to the early stages of human development), a MT (Master Therapist) will design a specificically engineered DC (Drug Cocktail) which can be administered by the SS to the anxious child. Funding is expected from a joint collaboration between Google, Microsoft, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Education. Additional support expected from all 50 states Chambers of Commerce.

Security by Blackwater.

And P.S. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia02fGpUQfU


How to Create your own NPR News Station

Step 1: Read NYT ledes overnight.

Step 2: Choose several front page articles as NPR features.

Step 3: Call one or two people mentioned in the story and get audio clips.

Step 4: Add friendly introduction and programmatic music to beginning and ending.

Step 5: Broadcast.

Step 6: Repeat daily.

Bonus: For commentary, call NY Times or PBS columnists and interview for 9 minutes. Repeat weekly.


Online learning, MOOC’s, and the Deterioration of Community

Let's hear it for "co-presence"!

Postman, 1995: “When two human beings get together, they're co-present, there is built into it a certain responsibility we have for each other, and when people are co-present in family relationships and other relationships, that responsibility is there. You can't just turn off a person. On the Internet, you can. And I wonder if this doesn't diminish that built-in, human sense of responsibility we have for each other. Then also one wonders about social skills; that after all, talking to someone on the Internet is a different proposition from being in the same room with someone--not in terms of responsibility but just in terms of revealing who you are and discovering who the other person is. As a matter of fact, I'm one of the few people not only that you're likely to interview but maybe ever meet who is opposed to the use of personal computers in school because school, it seems to me, has always largely been about how to learn as part of a group. School has never really been about individualized learning but about how to be socialized as a citizen and as a human being, so that we, we have important rules in school, always emphasizing the fact that one is part of a group. And I worry about the personal computer because it seems, once again to emphasize individualized learning, individualized activity.”



Support Your Local Baker! (And Professor, too!)

No one would argue that access to higher education shouldn't be broadened. But one effect of this process will likely be the laying off of thousands of professors who are building communities across the country by forming relationships with students, fellow faculty, community leaders, and the general public.

One thing we've learned from the history of science is that the more researchers, the better. A large community of inquiry helps find mistakes and leads to greater numbers of unexpected combinations of ideas and talents. The danger of the Coursera phenomenon is that it breeds the (false) notion of learning by the "Great Professor."

In contrast, I'd suggest that every town needs local heroes: great bakers, a great restauranteurs, and yes, great professors. Knowledge at a distance, via technology, may save a soul here or there (by bringing water to an educational desert or two), but it wittingly or unwittingly furthers the reduction of knowledge to information and impoverishes the connections which make society humane.